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Conference speaking in Norway - Elk, illness and that red star moment

Lindsay Herbert Head of Digital (Global)

Earlier this month I was sat on a plane bound for Kristiansand in Norway where I had been invited as a main speaker for the 2013 Digital Tourism Campus for the destinations sector. At that time, I naively thought my next blog post would be highlights from the conference. Instead, I now find myself reminiscing on what was definitely the most surreal (and terrifying) moments of my professional career so far.

9pm: Wishing I hadn't ordered the elk

It's the night before my big speaking engagement. My dinner of elk steak and potato dauphinoise is feeling increasingly 'heavy' in my stomach.

Two hours post-elk: I'm sick. My stomach rejects a decent portion of the elk, but I'm relieved in thinking, at least the worst is over.

1am: The worst is not over.

4 hours post-elk: I'm violently ill.

6 hours post-elk: My body has rid itself of every last bit of elk, potato, plus what feels like a few non-vital organs.With my sweat soaked hair plastered to my face, my hands finally release their death-grip on the toilet bowl.

I decide the worst must now, definitely, be over....No.

7am: It wasn't the elk!

A knock at the door.

My poor colleague, having only eaten a couple of bites of the same potato dauphinoise sidedish I'd eaten, shows up at my hotel room saying she's been sick too.(I am now really regretting eating the whole serving of potato). I barely get out the words "I'm think I'm done being sick now" before I have to sprint past her to the bathroom.

8:30am: I have to call the hospital.

I'm worried because I can't even keep down water so I get the hotel operator to connect me to the hospital.
After a couple of tries and some language barrier difficulties, I get to speak to a Norwegian doctor.He confirms the diagnosis of food poisoning and warns me it'll be a full 24 hours before I'll likely stop being sick. He tells me to only take a sip or two of water every 20 minutes so I don't dehydrate further.

My talk is at 3pm.

11am: I decide to risk it.

I don't know if it's my brain suffering from dehydration, or my guilt at the thought of letting down the conference organisers, but I decide I have to at least try to do the talk.

Already my head is filling with thoughts of gross FAIL videos on YouTube...

2pm: Taxi to the venue

I get ready but I'm not sure how - somehow not throwing up or passing out whilst doing make-up and hair, putting on tights, a dress, jacket and boots.  I find myself in a taxi heading with my still slightly green-looking colleague to the giant conference centre by the harbour. I know I'm being taken straight to the green room to meet with the technicians and be fitted with a headset microphone.

I've also been informed the audience haven't been very interactive all morning and because of this, the programme is running ahead of schedule.

2:45pm: My little red bucket

It's at this point the surrealness of the situation hits me.

I'm in Norway, i'm backstage at a major conference and 'm wearing a Madonna-style headset mic, briefing a Norwegian MC for my introduction.

And ... all of this is happening over the sounds of my violently gurgling digestive system. But most importantly, I'm about to walk in front of an unseen crowd of with no certainty that the little red bucket they've placed to the side of the stage is in sprinting distance from the podium.

3pm: Here goes nothing.

All I can think about are FAIL videos on YouTube and what nickname mine might get assigned.

I hear the crowd before I can see it. That's a lot of people clapping.

I step into the lights. My slides are just images and screenshots (without any text for queues) and each one is scrambling my sleep and water-deprived brain.

Each slide seems to take an eternity to explain and the red countdown clock displaying next to my presenter's monitor appears to be ticking down minutes like seconds.

4pm: Thank god Norwegians have a good sense of humour.

I did it! It's the end and I haven't thrown up! (or worse)

I make a joke about having to skip the last section of slides because of my terrible time-keeping, the lovely audience laugh (as they had done to earlier jokes about buckets and elk). I wrap up with a few concluding points before pretty much running off the stage. My colleague is waiting in the green room and my phone is buzzing with notifications of tweets, Instagram photos, and LinkedIn invites from the audience!

I'm delirious and relieved, but as the reality of my pounding headache, lack of sleep, and angry gurgling stomach and intestines sets back in, I'm also about to collapse but its over i think. Then I remember I have to do it all over again tomorrow! Will I Survive?

A week later: Killer elk potatoes and red star moments

Thinking back to standing on the stage, my little red bucket just out of view, and I can say it was one of the riskiest professional decisions I've ever made. But it was definitely also one of the most rewarding.

I saw a talk last year by an adventurer, Monty Halls, who talked about 'red star' moments - those moments in life when everything goes terribly wrong and what you do next will determine how you view yourself from that day onwards - and I know Norway was one of mine.
Sure, I missed the entire conference except for my own two talks (I tried to watch one session by Google the next day but it turned out to be in Norwegian!).

But none of that matters though, because looking back on the tweets and emails from the attendees and I'm so glad I stuck out my red star moment, little red bucket and all.

And today I was reminded of this memorable moment in my life when I saw a tweet come through with a link to an edit of my backstage video. I had actually forgotten about it until this point, and was fearing the worst, knowing how I felt after leaving that stage. 

But, ingnoring the rather pale, slightly tired version of me on screen, I have to say, i'm reminiscing once again on what is definitely one of those career changing moments where I can safely say I have proved just what I can do when I put my mind to something! And i'll share that video with you all here for amusement.